Time for Legislature to push back against Citizens United decision

Last modified: 2/28/2013 12:30:07 AM
The people of New Hampshire have seen how the U.S. Supreme Court’s horrendous Citizens United v. FEC decision – the case that declared corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited sums to influence elections – is incompatible with the principles of our democracy.

New Hampshire prides itself on being informed, independent and free to make its own choices. Unfortunately, such high standards for democracy are being increasingly challenged by the flow of outside money into elections from outside groups, a phenomenon that took off after Citizens United. For example, during the 2012 gubernatorial race, these outside groups outspent the candidates themselves by almost five times. That’s in addition to more than $1 billion spent by outside groups to influence federal elections and generally narrow the scope of debate on issues important to the state.

To push back against this assault, last year Barnstead, Bradford and Nottingham passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and several other New Hampshire cities are working toward doing the same. It’s time for the state’s political leaders to follow the people’s example.

Soon the New Hampshire Legislature will consider two bills that would combat the caustic influence of big money on our democracy. First, House Concurrent Resolution 2 would urge Congress to begin the process for a constitutional amendment establishing that human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights. Second, House Resolution 7 would urge Congress to pass an amendment to allow for overall limits on campaign spending. It is essential that New Hampshire join 11 other states that have already called for an amendment to reclaim our democracy.

This fight is not just about the fact that Citizens United has opened the floodgates on corporate spending in American politics. It’s not just about the fact that unlimited money is being funneled through independent organizations that do not need to report their sources. It’s not just about the fact that independent organizations – like Karl Rove’s Crossroads groups, or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the trade association for Big Business, or the super-PACs supporting different political candidates – run vicious attack ads without any accountability. It’s not just that many of these groups serve as conduits for hundreds of millions in secret money. It’s not just about the fact that, by relying on funding from a tiny a group of corporations and super-rich people, these groups are dominating the electoral process.

We need an amendment for all these reasons. But even more important, an amendment is needed so we can reestablish the principles of American democracy. Overturning Citizens United means fighting for the basic tenet of popular sovereignty: It is the people who rule. Constitutional protections exist to protect living, breathing human beings – not artificial entities.

As severe as is the damage done by Citizens United, it also presents an opportunity. The decision has galvanized a national movement to reclaim our democracy. In towns across the state, the people of New Hampshire are establishing themselves as leaders in this fight. It’s now time the Legislature listen and pass these important resolutions.

(State Rep. Mary Cooney is a Democrat from Plymouth. Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen, the consumer advocacy nonprofit group.)

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